The International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR), celebrated every year on 13 October, encourages every citizen and government to take part in building more disaster resilient communities and nations. It is a day to celebrate how people and communities are reducing their risk to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of DRR.
The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme supports global efforts to reduce the impact of disasters by working at national and community level to support disaster prevention and risk reduction strategies. UNV supports countries that have an identified risk and high vulnerability to disaster to mitigate the effects of crisis and address its root causes. In 2013, 28% of UNV-administered funds were spent on community resilience for environment and/or disaster risk reduction.
The role of volunteerism in mobilizing and managing volunteers is an important component of any disaster risk management strategy that aims at fostering community recovery, strength and resilience in vulnerable areas. Governments around the world realize this and UN Volunteers actively support governments and local communities with disaster risk reduction and prevention efforts.
The Government of Japan, for example, is partnering with UNV in an important regional project to support the United Nations Plan of Action on Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilience in South and East Asia and Pacific. Building on a strong partnership with Japan, Germany and the Czech Republic which brought relief, through volunteerism, to a number of countries affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, the project aims to deliver results in accordance with the individual requirements of programme countries and partners, by supporting up to six UN Resident Coordinators with one international and one national UN Volunteer specialists.
In the last five years, UNV has been involved in disaster response and risk reduction activities in a number of countries including Ecuador, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
In 2008, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and UNV set up a Fund to strengthen the role of volunteerism in disaster risk reduction. The funds aimed to reduce community vulnerability to natural disasters, support local volunteering and facilitate early recovery in countries like the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Peru.
In Ecuador, coastal human settlements, floods, droughts, volcanoes or the high seismic vulnerability of the Andean region means frequent loss of life and economic disruption. This, coupled with poverty and lack of information, makes communities highly exposed to disaster risks. It is essential for organizations and institutions to develop prevention and mitigation programmes that strengthen community strategies for disaster risk reduction, said Patricio Cajas, national UN Volunteer specialist helping to build the capacity of national volunteer organizations for disaster risk reduction in Ecuador in 2012.
Escuelas Vivas (Living Schools) was a triangular South-South initiative between UNV and the governments of Brazil and El Salvador, in which skills, knowledge and best practices were transferred between the two nations to deepen the knowledge of hundreds of students, their families and local communities concerning disaster risk reduction and food security. Around 40 activities focused on risk prevention, including workshops and evacuation simulations to train students and their families, and also to develop a disaster preparedness plan for the schools, with the support of more than 500 volunteers.
The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 explicitly recognizes the contribution of volunteerism to disaster risk management, particularly in strengthening the capacity of communities to respond to and prevent disasters. Volunteerism is also highlighted as a way of contributing to community resilience, community engagement and good governance for all stakeholders, particularly those most vulnerable to disasters. UNV will continue to provide national and international disaster risk reduction specialists and partner with UN Country Teams and Agencies to ensure volunteerism is built into their interventions under the post-2015 Hyogo Framework for Action.